For Their Eyes Only

I’m battling with a post about auctions at the moment, but sense is eluding me.  So while I sort myself out, why don’t you take a look at this pair of posters.  Although they’re not very cheery.

Protect and Survive residential street before bomb

Residential street after bomb damage 1958 civil defence poster

The images were sent to me by Mark T, who found them in an old hospital over twenty years ago and has hung onto them ever since.  He actually has the full set of eight – here’s another happy image (borrowed from this website which has a thoroughly comprehensive exposition of the Protect and Survive programme of that era).

civil defence bomb damage poster 1958

I’d never seen these posters before, although when I search for them, they are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum, which tells me that they date from 1958.

But quite apart from the shock value, they interest me for two reasons.  One is that you can’t look for something if it’s not there.  What else are we missing that we do not know is there?  I suppose means that one day I should just put the keyword ‘poster’ into the IWM collection and see what turns up.  If I’m gone for a long time, you’ll know why.

The other point, though, is that not all posters have the same audience.  What is fascinating about this set is that unlike most posters they were definitely not meant to be seen by everyone.  At a time when government advice for what to do in a nuclear attack was to put two doors against a wall and batten them with luggage, these posters are telling the unvarnished truth about what would actually happen if a bomb did fall.  Look at this poster.

city centre nuclear bomb damage civil defence poster 1958

A door isn’t going to be much use there, is it?

It’s no surprise really then that these were found in a hospital.  These are the people who would have needed to know the scale of the damage and how many people would be injured; quite possibly this was where the Civil Defence Planning Meetings were held.  But very few would have seen the posters at all, because only a very select few were meant to know how bad it was going to be.

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Why Bring That Up?

Sometimes I make promises which turn out to be quite rash.

When this poster came up for sale a few weeks ago, I said that I would find out more about both Tristram Hillier and Jezreel’s tower and report back.

vintage shell poster HILLIER, Tristram (1905-1983) - YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Jezreel's temple, Gillingham lithographic poster in colours, printed by The Baynard Press

In both cases this has turned out to be a more difficult task than I thought.  (I do also have a residual bitterness, because we tried to bid on this poster and were thwarted by the internet, and so it went to someone else for only £120, but I shall try not to let this cloud what comes next, even though I am a bit narked by it all.)

I thought Jezreel’s Tower would just be the ruin of some seventeenth century folly.  If only.  The building is modern, made from steel beams and concrete, while its story turns out to be far more complicated, with cans of worms concealed within other cans of worms, along with eccentricity, delusion and religion.  And the Co-op.  So what follows here is a very abridged version, with plenty of links to people who will tell you more.

The tower was begun in the late 1880s, by James White, who had become a follower of the prophetess Joanna Southcott (you can read her teachings here if you like – do report back as I haven’t gone that far).  White changed his name to James Jershom Jezebel, decided that he was a Messenger of the Lord and set up his own church in Gillingham.  This new sect had its headquarters in Gillingham, and combined religious fervour with a certain commercial acumen, as they managed to run several successful businesses in the town, including carpenters, joiners and printers, as well as a dairy, along with a greengrocers in Marylebone.

All of this meant that the sect had enough money to think about a headquarters, and White/Jezreel, bolstered, inevitably, by a vision from God, wanted this to be a grand one.  The tower was planned in accordance with the Book of Revelations, although scaled down slightly after intervention by the architects (that must have been an interesting meeting) and the foundation stone laid in 1885.

The building was intended to hold many things, including acres of printing presses to spread the word and a 5,000 seater amphitheatre, along with bakeries, reading rooms and lifts, and the concrete construction was to ensure that the tower survived the conflagration of the Day of Judgement.

But it was never completed; Jezreel himself was dead before the foundations had been finished, and his wife Esther, who took over the sect, died only three years later.  Work on the tower never restarted, and the buildings were sold in 1903.  The new owners tried to demolish it, but gave up as the building was so solidly built.  So what Hillier depicts on the poster, although it looks substantial, is only a part of what was constructed, and an even smaller part of what was planned.

The land and buildings were bought by the C0-op in 1920, who used the basements for a shoe repairing factory.  There was also, at some point, a small factory on the site, producing hose clips stamped ‘Jezreel Tower Works.’  The last remaining buildings were demolished as late as 2008.

All of this would be worth telling for its own sake, as a reminder of just how much strangeness lives alongside us in daily life.  But it also helps to explain why the tower might have appealed to Hillier.  His painting is always informed by a sense of intense oddness in otherwise everyday objects.  But as a Catholic schooled by monks at Downside, he also seemed to have an awareness of the closeness of death and judgement.  Perhaps.  He might just have liked the view.

I’m not sure I want to write much more than that about Hillier himself.  Usually the more I find out about someone, the more interesting they become to me.  But having read Hillier’s biography, I actually like the painting less.  I’m not sure why that is: it turns out that he was enormously successful in the 60s and 70s, producing and selling huge numbers of his odd, humming paintings.  And he lived only fifteen or so miles from here, so I can understand his images of these hedges and lanes too.  But I still don’t like them.

I came out the other end concluding that in fact I liked his commercial work more than anything else he produced.  I’ve gone on about the Shell Nature Studies before now.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

But he also produced a couple more posters for Shell, both of which are wonderful too.

Tristram Hillier shell tourists

Tristram Hillier shell seamen

I’m not entirely able to explain why this is the case – and why I am so clearly out of step with the picture buying public who snapped up his works back in the day.  It could be that I expect more than just a frisson of surrealism from a painting, and so end up disappointed.  But perhaps it is the other way round.  Hillier seemed able to bring the same level of oddness to his commercial works as to his fine art.  There are many strange artists, but here in the world of posters, he ended up doing something almost unique.

All of which is a bit of a falling note to end on, so to cheer you up, have this.  From the splendidly titled series, Why Bring That Up? (why indeed), Pathé News will now explain Jezreel’s Tower.

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Accidental Indexing

Right, there’s an auction on at Bloomsbury Auctions right now (or at least it will be by the time I post this).  Quite why anybody has a poster auction at this time of year – there’s Onslow’s next week as well – I don’t know.   Not only has any spare cash I might have gone on presents and turkeys, but I don’t even have time to think about what’s on offer.  As the lateness of this post shows.

Nonetheless, we’re going to take a cruise through the catalogue, not only because it’s a rather pleasing selection of posters, but they also form a kind of index to some of the things that have obsessed this blog here in the last few years, which amused me.  So, in no particular order,  here goes.

First is an AOA poster by Lewitt Him.  These are a constant in any auction worth its salt, and I’d be intrigued to know why quite so many survived (there are another two in this catalogue alone).

vintage airline poster LEWITT-HIM - AOA USA, we carry more passengers.... lithographic poster in colours, pinted by W.R. Royle & son Ltd., England

This is my favourite, though, as the one which perhaps best proves the point that the airline posters of the late 1940s and very early 50s are still engaged in a quite intense conversation with the war.  How much does this remind you of an aircraft recognition poster? And radar?  Quite a lot, I’d say.

In an equally unsurprising development, women are still getting to relax on holiday while their families have fun on the beach.  In this case, both parents have absented themselves entirely while the children get on with running riot.

vintage railway poster F ? W.M. - GREAT YARMOUTH, British Railways offset lithographic poster in colours, c.1957, printed by Jordison & Co. London

The catalogue dates this poster to 1957, but what 1930s faces those children have.  The designer has signed in an illegible scrawl, and the poster doesn’t seem to be in the NRM collection, so I can’t tell you if he’d been working since then, or what.  But in trying to find out, I did discover this gem.

vintage british railways poster great yarmouth

Here the woman is so relaxed that her head seems to have exploded.  It’s a risk.

It’s pleasing to see a small selection of Shell posters, which are appearing less frequently at auction these days, for reasons I cannot pretend to understand.

vintage shell poster HILLIER, Tristram (1905-1983) - YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Jezreel's temple, Gillingham lithographic poster in colours, printed by The Baynard Press

This one is by the strange and wonderful Tristram Hillier, who deserves much greater fame than seems to be his lot.  I now see that there is a biography of him.  I will read it and report back in the new year.

In amongst the railway posters, this blazes.  The image didn’t come up at all when we were debating depictions of industry and the North, although it definitely should have.

JACK, Richard RA. (1866-1952) - BRITISH INDUSTRIES, LMS, Steel lithographic poster in colours, 1924, printed by Staffords, Netherfields vintage LMS railway poster

It’s always good to be reminded about the sheer joy that are the posters of Pieter Huveneers.

 BUY STAMPS IN BOOKS, GPO lithographic poster in colours, 1958

While in the London Transport section, we are also reminded that Harry Stevens is a much better designer than he is sometimes given credit for.

STEVENS, Harry (1919-2008) - MILES OF PATHS.... London Underground offset lithographic poster in colours, 1965

Finally, there is also one London Transport gem which hasn’t come up on here before.

DEIGHTON, Leonard Cyril (b.1929) - IN LONDON'S COUTRY; VILLAGE LIFE lithographic poster in colours, 1957, printed by Curwen Press cond B

It’s worthy of inclusion just for being a great bit of 1957 design, but it’s also by Len Deighton.  A man of many talents, clearly.

More thoughts about auctions to come over the next couple of weeks, along with some pictures of cute dogs, because it’s Christmas.

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A Bauble

I am here really, just rather busy.  There is a post imminent, but in the meantime, have this.

Harry Stevens Christmas Greetings BPMA 1956

It’s an unfinished Harry Stevens design, courtesy of the BPMA.  Circa 1956, apparently.

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Sunny Cheshire by any other name

After more than four years, I have to admit that Quad Royal rambles on a bit.  One day I must make some kind of attempt to index it or at least make it easier for the casual visitor to find their way around.

But the advantage of there being so much back catalogue is that, every so often, Google brings in an unexpected visitor and I discover something new.  Which is what happened recently on a perfectly workaday post about a long-since-departed railwayana auction.

I was writing about these posters.

New Brighton/Wallasey - Have Fun in Sunny Cheshire', 1956.British Railways (London Midland Region) poster. Artwork by Ken or Felix Kelly

New Brighton, Wallasey, for Pleasure!Õ, BR (LMR) poster, 1954. Felix Kelly

They weren’t even in the auction but I do love them so and would still very much like to own them, but I digress.

Almost exactly three years after I wrote the piece, this appeared in the comments.

The Sunny Chesire posters were not done by Felix Kelly but rather Kenneth Roy Kelly MBE, my grandfather. I have the original artwork hanging on my wall. He also did TWA advertisements as well as designing the Popsicle logo.

This surprised me quite a bit, because these two posters are ascribed to on the NMSI database (which I use because it works better than the NRM one, but I’ve gone on about that before now and may well do again some day).  But then when I looked a bit closer, the attribution did look a bit suspect, because this is the only other poster down as being his work.

ÔChesterÕ, BR (LMR) poster British Railways (London Midland Region) poster. Interior of cathedral with choir stalls and organ front in north transept. Artwork by Felix Kelly.

You’d be hard pressed to claim it as related in any way.

And in fact when I read the NRM blurb very carefully, the maker may be down as ‘Felix Kelly’ but the description says it is by ‘Ken Kelly’.  So we are all very confused.

Google knows very little about Kenneth Roy Kelly, except that he got his MBE for services to defence heritage.  And there’s a fantasy artist called Ken Kelly so that’s any more detailed searches on the subject doomed.

Nonetheless, between the Quad Royal archives and the magic powers of Google, we have added very slightly to the sum total of human knowledge.  And I’ve written back to Roy Kelly’s grandfather to see if we can have a look at some photos of that original artwork and then perhaps I will be able to tell you even more.

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Lovely bombs

You may need to bear with me on this post.  I’ve been thinking about writing it for at least a year, possibly longer.  I’m sure all the ideas made a lovely linear argument when I first had them, but I’ve pondered them so long that they’ve all turned into some kind of thought soup.  The ingredients include bombs, posters and a very famous John Betjeman poem.  Only writing will tell me if they still make sense together, so here goes.

The easy part is the poster, which is this design by Edward McKnight Kauffer, commissioned by the Air Raid Precautions Department of the Home Office in 1938.

McKNight Kauffer vintage propaganda poster ARP 1938

Every so often I come back and think about this poster, and not just because we’ve got a copy framed on our walls.  I’m intrigued by what living through those years of the late 1930s must have been like, with people trying to live their normal lives as much as possible, but all the time knowing that war was looming dark and unavoidable in the very near future.

I’ve always thought that the allusiveness of the poster – you are invited to join ARP without any clue about what you might be joining or what the organisation might do – was because no one was very clear about what the war in the air might involve.  Pat Keeley’s companion poster is similarly vague.

Pat Keely vintage arp world war two propaganda poster 1938

Perhaps it was the misunderstandings behind the Keep Calm and Carry On poster which led me to think that no one really foresaw the reality of bombing raids, but that’s certainly what I believed.  The posters show nothing because back then no one really knew what was to come.

How wrong I was, it turns out.  People, not just the army, not just the government, but ordinary people in the streets, newspaper readers and casual observers, knew exactly how the bombers would come when war was declared.  It had been shown to them for years, and the evidence was actually there in plain view, if only I knew where to look.

The first clue to this came in a history of the inter-war years, which I was reading for another reason altogether, but piqued my interest by mentioning ‘London’s Great Air Battle’ which was staged in 1925.  Here’s the account from the News of the World, as reprinted in the book.

Powerful searchlights…stabbed into the path of darkness overhead, sweeping the skies for the menacing machines….Guns manned by alert teams rattled away as they spat out their imaginary stream of shells into the heavens and the invaders circled round and round loosing their cargoes of destruction from the heights.

Someone clearly had a very good idea of what the next war would do to London.   But who?  I nearly broke Google trying to find out (London’s Great Air Battle wasn’t actually what it was called, so this made life a bit more difficult than it might have been).

Until I eventually – and really this did take a couple of days – found a perfect blog.  It’s called Airminded, and it’s subject is Airpower and British Society 1908-1941.  I’d say that it couldn’t be more perfect, were it not for the fact that the author of the blog, Brett Holman, has also written a book called The Next War in the Air: Britain’s Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941.  Which is exactly what I needed to know.  Except it’s an academic book, and so costs £75.   But never mind, the blog gives us more than enough information to look at the posters in a new light.

It turns out that these displays were put on as part of the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley in 1924 and 1925.


One of the many attractions was that No 32 Squadron of the RAF simulated the bombing of London in a thrilling display of pyrotechnics that included anti-aircraft guns and fire engines.  And not just one display either, these ran six days a week for nearly a month.

London Defended wembley programme

As Holman points out, this was a lot of time, energy and aeroplane for the RAF to commit, so they must have been convinced that there was a propaganda purpose in all the spectacle.  They wanted people to know that the RAF was the most modern and exciting of the fighting forces, they wanted people to understand that the next war would be fought in the air and so the RAF would be essential.  But a side effect was that it made clear to people that, should the next war ever come, London would very definitely be in the firing line.  (It’s also notable that the Air Raid Precautions Department that commissioned the posters was also founded in 1924, which given the propaganda nature of the displays may be rather less than coincidence).

This wasn’t the only place that the RAF were showing their workings either.  The RAF Aerial Pageants had been held in Hendon since 1920 – and it’s worth noting that a lot of lovely London Transport posters were produced to advertise them too (this image from Kiki Werth).


In 1926 and 1927, one of the high points of the spectacle was set piece displays of the bombing of London.  The pageants, too, were large scale events – 150,00 people visited in 1926 alone.  None of this was a secret.

However, back then in the twenties it wasn’t necessarily clear then that another war was imminent.  So the shows could just be seen as hypothetical displays.  Perhaps even the results of the Air Defence Exercises that ran alongside the Wembley and Hendon events were not as frightening as they seem now with hindsight.  Each summer, starting in 1927, the RAF High Command tried to bomb London with some squadrons, while others tried to defend it.  The results were clear each time, the bomber almost always got through.  And this conclusion was widely reported in the newspapers when it happened year after year.  By 1932, the results must have felt at least a bit ominous though.

As the decade turned and the 1930s rolled on, it must have been apparent to even the most casual observer that was would be very different next time round.  No more trenches, no more stale mate.  The new war belonged to bombers, and the bombs would not be falling on soldiers alone, everyone in Britain would have to be prepared for what might come.

The final piece of evidence for this is John Betjeman, and perhaps his most famous lines of all.

Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn’t fit for humans now,
There isn’t grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath.

These lines aren’t the result, as somehow I’d always assumed, of hindsight, the poet summoning the bombs back in the 1950s to do their work again.  Although Betjeman published the poem in 1937, he actually wrote it in 1928.  This is ten years before those ARP posters, and yet there’s no explanation in the poem, no need for him to explain what the bombs will do. Everyone understands.

All of which means that when I now look at the posters again (this is a third one, produced for the WRVS but in 1938 as well) I have to see them in a very different way.

ARP WRVS poster air raid 1938 world war two propaganda

Their vagueness isn’t the result of evasion at all.  On the contrary, everyone is so clear about what the next war will involve that the realities don’t need to be mentioned at all.  No one wants to see the blasted corpses, the broken homes, the dead children.  All that needs to be said are the three letters of ARP, and the viewer of the poster knows what has to be done.  Because war is coming, and this time the war will come from the air and no one will be spared.

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